The Ladies of Horror
Picture-Prompt Writing Challenge!
by Michelle Joy Gallagher
There was something old in the woods. The trees cradled their own ancient history, reaching toward the sky in perpetual praise of the sun god, and the rocks grew lichen that witnessed the earliest tribes huddled around blazing fires, speaking in forgotten tongues. But there was something older still in the woods. Older than tree and rock and lichen and even the sacred sun. It was there when icebergs cut the shape of continents. It was there when volcanoes blotted the sky with ash. It was there when the lava had yet to cool. It burrowed into the warm, soft crust of the earth and it waited. It waited for her.
It didn’t know when to expect her or how she would come into being. It just was. It breathed with the eons slowly coursing over it. Ice and rock and river and tree. The landscape rearranged itself above. Watching and waiting below.
As life went from single cell to fin to fur and wing, it called her name. It didn’t know what a name was or what sort of being would claim it, but her name was old too. It brought her name with it, buried deep inside of it, almost indistinguishable from itself.
Hunter/gatherers made their humble homes above it, tribes planted the first farms where the roots of the plants searched blindly through the soil and found it, modest and patient in the absolute dark. The plants heartened themselves with it. The people fed themselves from its life force without knowing and over time were able to use second sight, to see the future, to heal each other by whispering words over wounds. Soon, they knew her name too. They couldn’t say what it was exactly, but her name inspired temples and songs, they danced around fires for her and drew her likeness on cave walls. They communed with the old one in this way, and the old one was taught their word for love. It felt loved by them and grew bold. Deep within the mantle of a strange world, the old one would laugh and the earth would shake and the people taught their children that this meant their old friend rejoiced.
Soon enough the people encountered strangers who didn’t know their secret bond, didn’t understand their songs, their stories, their special sight. There was blood shed, their lands burned and their language erased, their powers bled and knowledge evaporated.
The old one wept, alone again in the dark.
It sang itself a lullaby they’d made with her name. It sang it for a thousand years. One long hymn to soothe the sadness. As their temples were stripped to make way for dirt roads, as stone and bone tools made way to metal ones, and oh, it was so L O U D.
The old one wept louder, and louder still, now doubtful of its mission. It had finally forgotten the song the people made and sang to it. That sang with it. But it couldn’t and wouldn’t forget whom it waited for. It wanted to sleep to escape the frightening void. There is no known language in the universe that can sufficiently describe such an ancient thing’s loss of hope.
It shook the earth again but this time with terrifying grief. No one knew it. No one remembered the name of the one it waited for.
It was to serve as a messenger. Silent until it could give its secret to the only one who would be able to understand it and act upon it, but the sorrow grew and each century felt sharp against it increasing its agony.
It shook with anger, with fear and with an overwhelming sadness.
And then slowly it fell asleep.
It managed to sleep only a few decades when up above from out of the grinding and jarring white noise it deciphered tiny little footsteps, playful, splashing in the river that ran around a small bend between tall sequoias. There had been made a natural cove where this thing lay beneath as if the river and the trees knew not to disturb it.
She had wandered here away from her family after a picnic. She had an incredible love of nature already at 3 years old. Trees were “Wee!” The sky was “KY!” and the moon was “BOOM!”
Each little adventurous step sent a shockwave deep down and stirred the old thing and the old thing knew instantly that SHE was the one who it had waited for.
But oh, in its sorrow it had finally forgotten her name.
Her name had ricocheted inside the crust of the earth for a million million years but finally even the echoes were lost.
She felt it there, and waited. Staring up at the treetops and smiling with all 3 of her teeth. Giggling as she dug into the earth with her tiny toes.
The old thing whispered. “Please wait, dear love. I have something to tell you.” But it sounded like the leaves rustling in the wind and the water rushing around stones. She smiled brightly, feeling the love it had for it, but did not hear her name and so she did not wait long.
She started to follow the river bank back the way she came. She could hear her mother laughing. She loved when mommy laughed.
The old thing, in agony, reached and stretched to stop her but she was already on her father’s shoulders, swaying sleepily there as they walked back to their car to go home.
The old one searched and searched every fragment of its measureless memory. It It could name the river that ran above it and it could name the stars the swirled gently overhead but her name was clouded as in a fog.
Its mission was simple but dire. The message had to be given. The-
She was back.
It felt her wandering through the cove near the river just as before but her steps were louder now, more sure. She was older. She had remembered the love she felt there as a small child and returned. She brought a camera and binoculars and a sandwich in a ziplock bag and she brought the man she was in love with, too. He was perplexed, saw the small cove as the least remarkable part of the landscape so far and couldn’t understand why she was so enamored with it.
“This is it, Frank! Just as I remember it. Can’t you feel it? Just a feeling of complete… love.”
“What exactly did you put in this thermos instead of coffee?” he asked as he unpacked their picnic and smirked at her slyly.
He obviously couldn’t feel the magic of the place. It wasn’t meant for him anyway.
The old one listened patiently. Reaching toward her with its whole being and hoping this F R A N K would say her name.
“hey babe, did we bring any napkins?”
THERE IT WAS!
B A B E!!! It screamed the name babe through the earth’s crust to the tip of the tallest tree branch of every tree. But it sounded like a high wind coming up. And it sounded like the fish jumping in the river and far away rocks dislodging from their places and tumbling down the hill and birds taking flight.
“Oh, That wind! Lets go!” She yelled over the sound of the leaves.
NO. no. NO NO NO NO N O
There were languages created by beings made of light who lived in the center of stellar nebula that could still not describe the depths of the old one’s frustration and grief.
And it rumbled and shook and parts of the earth miles around opened up
and she and Frank RAN because they didn’t know what else to do.
“SLOW DOWN, MAGGIE.”
They ran between trees and over rocks while the earth shook endlessly.
M A G G I E the old thing screamed. And Maggie heard it. Maggie felt it like a shot straight into her heart.
Startled, her foot caught a tree root and she slammed to the ground, hitting her head on a rock.
The old thing PANICKED as she rolled into the river face first.
Frank lifted her out of the water, ignoring the amount of blood coming from her head.
And the old one muttered “Maggie, please”
The message lost. Humanity lost.
“Maggie, please. Maggie, please. Maggie, please”
There was something old in the woods and it whispered
For eons after
Until the sun swallowed the earth whole.
Fiction © Copyright Michelle Joy Gallagher
Image courtesy of Pixabay.com
More about Michelle Joy Gallagher:
Michelle Joy Gallagher is a poet from Sacramento, CA. She enjoys mixing poetry with other artistic mediums, and pushing her own artistic comfort zones in the process. Using visceral imagery, and playing with the elasticity of language is where she finds herself happiest. She is the author of poetry chapbooks, A New Mourning and S=K log W, her poetry also makes appearances in The Rejected Volume 1 and The Rejected Volume 2 By Stan Konopka, and her story, The Red Woman, will appear in the soon to be released Café Macabre (Leah Lederman and Source Point Press).